Questions on community – developed by Agustina Strüngmann, Eleonora Stassi, Kenneth Paranada, Adriana Domínguez Velasco, Dina Yakerson, students of the Postgraduate Program in Curating during the workshop for the realization of an issue on On-Curating on new social sculpture – to be addressed to the artist who participated in the exhibition “Archive of Shared Interests”, Thun 2012.
1. In the framework of your practice, how would you define community?
OR: My work is not so much about defining, but rather about following and observing different forms of communities, especially in the framework of social movements and activist struggles that inspire me. Of course, the different communities I happened to work with—e.g. communities involved in the Bolivarian Process in Venezuela, the alter-globalization movement, or the climate-camp movement in the UK—are very different from each other, in terms of size, the basis on which they are active, technologies they use, how they organize, communicate, how they make decisions, etc. To some extent, my work consists in following these communities or movements from a position of solidarity, to create an outcome that both informs a general public about these communities but can also be used by the communities themselves for their political struggles.
2. Do you feel that locally engaged projects need to have a global impact?
OR: It is already quite hard to achieve a local impact, not to speak of a global impact. And here it makes no difference if we talk about art or activist projects. In general, I guess ideally you work on something that makes sense in a local context, but also has some meaning or influence on a broader level. I think a central point for the success of coming struggles for a real democratic society is to connect these tens of thousands of local struggles that take place all around the world with each other, to define various principles and ideas that are being shared by these movements, that might also build a common base for struggle internationally. If we manage to achieve this, movements can become a central player that will not be ignored by those in power, as it is very often the case nowadays.
3. Are you interested in the "afterlife" of your project, when the artist goes home?
OR: Sure, it interests me a lot to see how people respond and react to a work after it is finished. This observation also helps me to conceptualize new projects. In those cases where I produce works in public space, I ask people to document the change the artwork might go through over the time: is it vandalism, or how it is being used by local people and how this use might change over time? I also cannot imagine developing new artworks without having a continuous exchange with the audience. This feedback helps a lot to understand the strengths and weaknesses of certain works, and it challenges and inspires me for upcoming projects.
4. Is there a relationship between socially-engaged/community arts and artistic projects that choose to engage with communities?
OR: I don’t know to which works you are referring when you set up a division between "socially-engaged/community arts" and "artistic projects that choose to engage with communities." There are so many different ways of how artists work in or with communities. I acknowledge there are quite problematic tendencies in community art, especially when the State uses art to cover over neglect of communities for which the State is responsible. I don’t think art should provide social work in areas the State consciously abandons. In my opinion art should rather be used as a catalyst to set up alliances in affected communities to push back these neoliberal politics responsible for many problems. I know many regard this as utopian, but I believe in the long term it is possible to change existing power relationships, and art can have a certain role in this.
5. Can art have a transformative effect on a community?
OR: Sure, why not? There are numerous examples of local communities that organized after an initiative that came from the field of art. For example the Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk—the city from which I am responding to this questionnaire—helped organize their poor neighbors to claim support for the renovation of their run-down houses in the neighborhood of the shipyard from the city government. The houses had water in the cellars, while the city government was spending millions of Euros to establish prestigious projects such as the Solidarity Museum and expensive streets the people do not want just some hundred meters away. But in general I reject this hierarchical idea that artists are well informed, and the people in communities would just need to collaborate with artists to achieve change. In many of the more leftist-wing countries in Latin America, such as Venezuela, Bolivia, or Brazil, it is the movements who are the transformative actors, and the majority of people in the arts are still aligned with the traditional system that defends its privileges the movements are trying to overcome.
Oliver Ressler, born in Knittelfeld, Austria, in 1970, lives and works in Vienna. He is an artist and filmmaker who produces installations, projects in the public space, and films on issues such as economics, democracy, global warming, forms of resistance and social alternatives. Over the years, he collaborated with the artists Zanny Begg (Sydney), Ines Doujak (Vienna), Martin Krenn (Vienna), Carlos Motta (New York), Gregory Sholette (New York), David Thorne (Los Angeles) and the political scientist Dario Azzellini (Caracas/Berlin).